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Nicaragua (Tier 3)

The Government of Nicaragua does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Nicaragua remained on Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking, including prosecuting eight alleged traffickers and convicting four sex traffickers. However, the government continued to downplay the severity of the trafficking problem in Nicaragua, contradicting civil society reports of increased cases during the pandemic; it did not have shelters or allocate funding for specialized victim services; the government made negligible efforts to address labor trafficking, although it remained a serious concern; and victim identification efforts remained inadequate. The government denied that traffickers exploited Nicaraguans in foreign countries, despite media reports that foreign officials identified several Nicaraguan victims. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses, despite endemic corruption and widespread official complicity. The government did not cooperate with NGOs to provide protection services or include civil society in the national anti-trafficking coalition. Prosecution, protection, and prevention efforts in the two Caribbean autonomous regions of Nicaragua continued to be much weaker than in the rest of the country.

  • Significantly increase efforts to identify trafficking victims, especially labor trafficking victims and foreign national victims.
  • Investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials.
  • Vigorously implement the National Strategy for Comprehensive Attention to Victims of Trafficking in Persons by identifying victims, including among vulnerable populations, and effectively referring victims to appropriate services.
  • Partner with NGOs to provide victims short- and long-term care and reintegration services.
  • Increase funding for victim protection, finance the trafficking fund, and provide specialized services for trafficking victims.
  • Fulfill the requirement under Law 896 to include the Nicaraguan Coordinating Federation of NGOs Working with Children and Adolescents (CODENI) to represent NGOs in the National Coalition against Human Trafficking (NCATIP).
  • Increase training for government officials—including social workers, labor inspectors, and law enforcement officials—to facilitate increased victim identification and assistance, including securing restitution.
  • Strengthen law enforcement and victim protection efforts in the Caribbean autonomous regions, especially through increased staff and funding.
  • Amend the 2014 anti-trafficking law to include a definition of trafficking in persons consistent with international law.
  • Annually report on progress in implementing the national action plan.

The government increased law enforcement efforts. The Law against Trafficking in Persons of 2015 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties ranging from 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law established the use of force, coercion, or deceit as an aggravating factor rather than an essential element of the crime; the penalties increased to 16 to 18 years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses involving these factors. The penalty for child trafficking increased to 19 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law also defined trafficking broadly to include all labor exploitation and illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation.

Observers questioned the validity of government reporting on human trafficking, including law enforcement statistics; some alleged the government obscured or intentionally misclassified trafficking cases to minimize trafficking statistics. The government reported initiating four sex trafficking investigations in 2021, compared with one investigation in 2020 and six in 2019. The government prosecuted eight alleged sex traffickers in 2021, compared with prosecuting four alleged sex traffickers in 2020 and one in 2019. The government held seven of eight accused traffickers in pre-trial detention; it levied charges against the eighth in absentia. The government convicted four sex traffickers, compared with not convicting any traffickers in 2020, 2019, and 2018. The court sentenced one of the convicted traffickers to eight years and six months’ imprisonment; it sentenced the remaining three traffickers, also convicted of money laundering, to 20 years’ imprisonment plus a fine.

The government did not report any law enforcement efforts to combat labor trafficking for the second consecutive reporting period, nor did it report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking crimes. However, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. Civil society made reports indicative of official complicity in trafficking crimes, including association between public officials and brothels where child sex trafficking may have occurred. Although corruption was endemic, the government did not have policies to prevent official complicity in trafficking, contributing to an environment of impunity and potentially decreasing the likelihood of victims reporting trafficking crimes. The government did not report any instances of international coordination or cooperation on trafficking cases.

The government maintained minimal protection efforts. The government’s reporting on victim identification and protection was unreliable and often varied from source to source. The government reported identifying two sex trafficking victims, both girls, in 2021, compared with one victim in 2020 and eight in 2019. In a separate forum, the government reported identifying six child trafficking victims in 2021. The government reported NGOs and other organizations did not identify any additional victims; however, civil society reported their organizations continued to identify and support victims. Both identified victims were Nicaraguan nationals; the government did not identify or support any foreign trafficking victims exploited in Nicaragua or Nicaraguans exploited abroad, despite media reports of several cases where Costa Rican and Spanish officials identified Nicaraguan victims exploited in sex and labor trafficking. The government did not report implementing or training officials to use protocols it reportedly developed in 2019 to facilitate identifying child and adolescent trafficking victims among vulnerable populations. Officials did not identify any victims in the Caribbean autonomous regions, where endemic poverty and limited official presence contributed to significant trafficking vulnerability.

Despite identifying two child sex trafficking victims, the government did not report providing medical or psychological care to any trafficking victims in 2021. The government reported it provided unspecified support for six trafficking victims—a figure that may have included victims reflected in the government’s official statistics for 2021 or identified in previous reporting periods—aiding law enforcement investigations or prosecutions. The government reported agencies had allocations for trafficking victim protection in the national budget, but these did not provide for specialized services or shelters, nor did the government disclose figures for the allocations. The government did not indicate whether it could provide appropriate services to male victims, victims with disabilities, or LGBTQI+ victims. Government entities did not coordinate or collaborate with civil society organizations on victim identification or assistance. NGOs reported there had been minimal, if any, communication with the government on victim services since 2018; observers indicated the government’s restrictive relationship with civil society significantly worsened during the reporting period. The government continued its practice of revoking the registration of civil society organizations, forcing the closure of at least one shelter providing a range of services to women victims of violence, including trafficking, in 2021.

The government did not fund or support NGOs providing the majority of available victim protection services in the country, leaving victims without vital assistance. The government did not provide shelter or housing support to any trafficking victims in 2020. There were no trafficking-specific shelters in Nicaragua and, in general, capacity for long-term services was minimal; the government did not provide extended shelter, and NGOs had a limited ability to provide such care. The government’s unofficial policy of placing victims with family members, in the absence of shelter options, put trafficking victims at risk of re-victimization by family members who may have been complicit in their exploitation. There were no shelters available for men. The Ministry of Family coordinated services for child trafficking victims, including medical and legal services and access to education; officials could refer child trafficking victims to “special protection centers,” but the government often returned child victims to their families’ care, despite risk of re-victimization. Observers identified a lack of adequate services across the entire country.

Law 896 established a dedicated fund for victim protection and prevention activities to be financed through budget allocation, donations, and assets seized from traffickers. However, for the seventh consecutive year, there was no indication that the government made the fund operational. Law 896 provided victims the ability to testify in advance of the trial and allowed testimony via video or written statement to encourage participation and protect a victim’s identity; however, the government did not report using these provisions. Victims could obtain compensation by filing civil suits against traffickers; however, NGOs reported the lack of streamlined procedures for trafficking victims and lengthy case timelines made the process unduly burdensome. There was no record that victims had ever exercised this right. Due to frequent misclassification of trafficking cases and a lack of formal identification procedures, authorities likely detained, arrested, and deported some unidentified trafficking victims. The government did not report efforts to screen for or identify trafficking victims among migrant populations or individuals in commercial sex. Nicaraguan law provided for humanitarian visas for foreign trafficking victims, but the government had not identified any foreign victims since 2018.

The government decreased its already minimal efforts to prevent trafficking. The government reported the NCATIP led 17 working committees and met monthly, although civil society reported the coalition and its committees made little contribution to capacity building and awareness raising on trafficking. While the government reported the NCATIP engaged with a select group of international civil society organizations, it excluded local organizations, including CODENI, from the coalition’s activities; Law 896 required the NCATIP to include CODENI in its proceedings. Observers considered the NCATIP to be ineffectual as an anti-trafficking entity and reported the apparent dissolution of most of its regional bodies; only three or four regional committees remained. The government had a national action plan for 2018-2022, which focused on awareness raising; increasing technical capacity to investigate, prosecute, and sentence traffickers; protecting the rights of victims and witnesses and providing assistance; and monitoring and implementing the plan. The government did not report, and civil society did not observe, efforts to research or monitor trafficking in the country. The government reported it conducted trafficking awareness events through the NCATIP’s working committees but did not specify the focus or format of these events; however, civil society organizations were not aware of any government awareness campaigns conducted during the reporting period. The government continued to maintain two 24-hour crime hotlines that could process trafficking complaints and provide information on trafficking and gender-based violence, but it did not initiate any investigations or identify any victims based on hotline calls.

During the reporting period, Nicaraguans continued to encounter problems obtaining national identification cards, which increased their vulnerability to trafficking and limited their ability to access public services. The government required private employment agencies to register to permit government oversight and established minimum wages and maximum hours for adult and adolescent domestic workers; it did not report identifying forced labor in these sectors. The government did not report any efforts to inspect bars or nightclubs suspected of engaging in trafficking or any efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex. The government reported it took no action to reduce demand for child sex tourism, suggesting the government may have discontinued a previously reported Ministry of Tourism program to increase awareness of child sexual exploitation in the tourism industry. NGOs reported ongoing concerns about child sex tourism in the country; however, authorities did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any tourists for child sex trafficking. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Nicaragua, and traffickers exploit victims from Nicaragua abroad. Women, children, and migrants in Nicaragua are especially vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers subject Nicaraguan women and children to sex trafficking within the country and in other Central American countries, Mexico, Spain, and the United States. Victims’ family members are often complicit in their exploitation. Traffickers take advantage of Nicaraguans’ desire for economic opportunity through fraudulent offers of higher pay outside the country for work in restaurants, hotels, domestic service, construction, and security. More than half of Nicaraguans who migrate to—or are forcibly displaced to—other Central American countries and Europe are reportedly vulnerable to and have been victims of sex and labor trafficking, both in transit and after they reached their destinations. Traffickers increasingly use social media sites to recruit their victims. Traffickers often recruit their victims in rural areas or border regions with false promises of high-paying jobs in urban centers and tourist locales, where they subject them to sex or labor trafficking. Nicaraguan women and children are subjected to sex and labor trafficking in the two Caribbean autonomous regions, where the lack of strong law enforcement institutions, rampant poverty, a higher crime rate, and lingering impacts of hurricanes Eta and Iota increase the vulnerability of the local population. In addition, experts report traffickers often target (for sex and labor trafficking) Nicaraguan children whose parents leave the country to work abroad. Traffickers exploit Nicaraguan adults and children in labor trafficking in agriculture, construction, mining, the informal sector, and domestic service within the country and in Costa Rica, Panama, Spain, the United States, and other countries. Traffickers force some children to work in artisanal mines and quarries. Observers report traffickers exploit children through forced participation in illegal drug production and trafficking. Children and persons with disabilities are subjected to forced begging, particularly in Managua and near tourist centers. Traffickers subject some male migrants from Central American countries transiting Nicaragua en route to Costa Rica and Panama to labor trafficking. Cuban nationals working in Nicaragua may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. Nicaragua is a destination for child sex tourists from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe.

U.S. Department of State

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